23 May 2024

It’s estimated that Bangkok boasts around 200 Italian restaurants. Nestled among them is one which has recently opened in Soi Saladaeng.

Its proprietor, Manuel Palacio, prefers to label it a “hospitality house” though. Thai PBS World spoke with him to learn how he has distinguished his establishment from others in this competitive market.

Love at first sight

With 24 years of experience in the food and beverage industry, and with his company headquartered in Hong Kong, where it manages numerous successful restaurants, Manuel Palacio made the bold choice to launch his own Italian restaurant in the vibrant heart of Bangkok, following just a week-long exploration of the city, which he described as “love at first sight”.

Manuel’s extensive travels have exposed him to many cities and cultures around the world and, despite having visited Bangkok six to seven times before, he still finds the city fascinating.

“I think it’s one of the most complex cities in the world, because it has a lot to offer. You have art, culture, and you can get to the beach within two hours. It has amazing restaurants and great hotels. You may visit Bangkok for two or three days before going to Phuket or Chiang Mai. Yet, it is a city that people don’t explore deeply enough, because it can be very daunting. So, it’s a city that’s very complicated to understand in just 48 hours,” says Manuel, adding that he feels Bangkok doesn’t get the credit it deserves, as it is the most visited city in the world in 2024. He recalls that, during his two-week visit, every day brought something new to see, and he just fell in love with the place.

Hospitality House

Prior to opening his business, he did some research by visiting and testing food in more than 150 places around the city. Even though the restaurant business in Bangkok is highly competitive, the reason he chose to offer Italian food here was merely an excuse. In fact, he admits that it could have been Spanish or French. What mattered to him most was creating an atmosphere where people would feel special.

For Manuel, opening a restaurant was about more than just serving food. It was about crafting an experience that would leave a lasting impression on his customers. That is the reason why he prefers to call his restaurant a ‘Hospitality House,’ with its strongest selling point being love and care for the guests.

He explains “As long as we find the people who come here for the right reasons, which is to be looked after, I think we don’t need to look into a macro environment. We don’t need to look into the competitors, but rather we need to look into how we can do it better for the guests who are visiting”.

He is passionate about people and loves making them happy. He enjoys serving and being of service to others, as well as seeing their smiles. Witnessing his team have a positive impact on people brings him contentment. “I think it’s the most fantastic thing that you can do. It’s so beneficial to yourself as well, because you have a great time getting to know all these people”, he adds.

Manuel Palacio

Happy staff

The Spanish restaurateur emphasised that, before ensuring customer satisfaction, the restaurant staff must first find joy in their work. Perhaps, this is one of the secrets for his success. He then explained his approach.

“I think the first thing starts when you are finding the right match to work with, but most importantly we should provide them (staff) with an incredible development path. So, it’s your responsibility as a leader of any business to ensure you develop a path for growth for every single team member, that you give them the opportunity to learn, to have a great time, to make mistakes, to be more than followers”.

He provides an example of what happened to his restaurants in Hong Kong, where business owners may face problems of inadequate opportunities, as their team members leave to advance to more senior positions. Manuel suggests that when this time comes, the owners need to support their team members and encourage them to grow elsewhere.

“You need to be engaged with the future of your people, with or without you, it doesn’t matter. It’s about them, not about you, because what is good for them eventually is what is good for you. If you grow a reputation as someone who cares for them, the rest will take care of itself”.

By Att Boonyatus

Video version: https://www.thaipbsworld.com/the-man-who-serves-happiness-manuel-palacio/